S.D.Ala.: RS supported stop of defs’ boat in international waters; scuttling a sinking ship after full investigation not spoliation of evidence

The government showed reasonable suspicion to believe that defendants’ ship was engaged in drug smuggling when it was seen again off the Colombian coast heading to the U.S. along a known smuggling route. The USCG elected to scuttle the boat because it wasn’t seaworthy and was taking on water. First, they measured, videoed, and photographed all of it. The explanation is reasonable, and it’s not spoliation of evidence. United States v. Ruiz-Murillo, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 37810 (S.D.Ala. March 15, 2017):

Among the record facts shown by the Government to support a “reasonable suspicion” determination in this case are the following: (i) the vessel had been spotted numerous times, but had never been engaged in fishing; (ii) the vessel was on a course/route consistent with drug smuggling operations; (iii) the vessel was underway at night without navigation lights energized; (iv) as the Coast Guard approached, the vessel made erratic course and speed changes; (v) the vessel’s crew was seen apparently jettisoning weighted bales of cargo; (vi) the vessel was riding abnormally low in the water, suggesting a heavy cargo; (vii) the small, open-hull vessel was in the Pacific Ocean, more than 40 miles off the coast of Colombia; and (viii) upon boarding, Coast Guard agents viewed no fish, no fishing rods and no fishing equipment (aside from some nets) aboard the vessel. (See doc. 55-2; doc. 52-2, at 24, 32, 34, 36.) These circumstances, taken in the aggregate, warrant a determination that the Coast Guard’s actions on the night in question were supported by reasonable suspicion, such that no Fourth Amendment violation occurred.

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